Name(s) + Company:
JW & Melissa Buchanan, The Little Friends of Printmaking

Education Background (school / self taught, etc):
We both graduated with Fine Arts degrees from the University of Wisconsin, focusing on printmaking. In practically all other concerns, we are either self-taught, foolhardy novices, or doltish savants.

Where you first worked (in design / illustration, etc):
My first real design job was at Planet Propaganda after I finished school; Melissa was the designer for the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health, Department of Surgery (a job I was always jealous of). Both of these answers are really cheating, though, because we’d already been doing Little Friends for a few years at that point and were somewhat known already. So I guess Little Friends was really our first design job.

Favorite book ever (design or non-design related):
I like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, Melissa prefers Wonderland by Oates.

Recommended design / thinking / illustration book(s):
The Archigram monograph, or 100 B&W Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger


1. What made you decide to become designers/illustrators/printmakers?
It’s easy to see the benefit of printmaking– Just the idea of making multiples has so much practical and conceptual appeal; plus there are all sorts of process-oriented rabbit holes to explore. You could spend your whole life making prints without having to repeat yourself. Moving into design & illustration was a natural outcropping of what we were doing with our prints. We were already trying to do something with a conceptual underpinning, something that went beyond being decorative or formalistic, and at that point you’re already halfway towards illustration anyway. Illustration & design just became another venue for our “unique” set of problem-solving skills.

2. What’s your process for conceiving new designs/illustrations?
We let the subject matter guide us to a large degree. We research. There’s a lot of staring into space involved. We’ll spend a good three hours hashing out the particulars of the design problem between the two of us, usually in the form of very petulant complaining. It’s a good thing no one else is around to hear it.

3. What do you regret not learning while you were in school?
Maybe some CompSci stuff. If we had some leet developer skillz, our game would be so much tighter.

4. What’s your most valuable ability? i.e. conceptualization, hand/computer skills, etc.
It’s conceptualization. The quality of your ideas is the one thing that defines you as an artist or a designer– because after a certain point, we’re all talented, and you can’t count on luck. So you have to develop a process of conceptualization that works. Whether it’s design literacy & connoisseurship, or finding a partner that challenges you, or looking at what everybody else is doing and just running the other way– whatever, just do it.


5. What is the most exciting aspect of the art/design world right now?
The internet, because you can try anything.

6. If you could move anywhere right now, in consideration of the art/design scene, where would you go?
We were looking at Portland, Oregon recently, thinking about a moving there within the next few years. A lot of artists and designers we know live there, and it would be fun to be a part of a community of our peers instead of a couple of hermits. That’s the boring, realistic answer. The fun answer would be Mexico City or Berlin, or both, using some kind of not-yet-invented spatial displacement technology that would allow us to have a chicharron in one hand and a pretzel in the other, looking at two art openings, one with each eye.

7. What’s your daily routine?
We get up at 10am, take calls and check e-mails, eat breakfast, play with the cats, and then start working, with intermittent food and internet breaks… Then ten or eleven hours later we watch TV and go to bed. You may have noticed that none of the stuff on that list took place outside the confines of our house. So, yeah. Non-stop excitement.

8. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you, regarding design or otherwise?
Take lots of breaks.


9. In illustration/design, do you think is it more important to have a very distinct and solid style or have more of a range of styles?
Having a distinct style and honing it and developing it has been our approach. It’s important to us. Of course, we come from a fine art background, where the notion of authorship carries more weight; In graphic design, there’s a prevailing notion of “whatever works best, works best.” It’s hard to argue with that, so there is a certain validity to being able to fake a bunch of different people’s styles, although if you ever meet those people in person they might give you the stink-eye (or worse).

10. Who would you call a mentor / attribute as the inspiration in how you work / do things?
We don’t have a mentor, but we would like one. We’re currently mentor-deficient. If there’s an older, famous designer out there that wants to be best buds with us and provide us with sage advice, we are currently accepting applications. Visually, we’re inspired by little details and arcana. I could spend an hour looking at the stitching on a hockey sweater or a web page that just shows bus stop signs from different cities; Just give me something to look at. And the person who most inspired us when we were first figuring things out was Geoff Mcfetridge. The thing that really impressed us was the wide variety of kinds of work he did. He’s sort of a design omnivore, and that’s been a model for our approach to design.

Visit the Little Friends of Printmaking website here.

October 2009.